In-depth Q&A: How will the UK’s hydrogen strategy help achieve net-zero?

Experts have alerted that, with hydrogen in short supply in the coming years, the UK must prioritise it in “hard-to-electrify” sectors such as heavy market as capacity expands.

Hydrogen will be “critical” for accomplishing the UKs net-zero target and might satisfy up to a third of the countrys energy needs by 2050, according to the federal government.

The UKs brand-new, long-awaited hydrogen method offers more detail on how the federal government will support the advancement of a domestic low-carbon hydrogen sector, which today is essentially non-existent.

In this short article, Carbon Brief highlights key points from the 121-page strategy and analyzes a few of the primary talking points around the UKs hydrogen plans.

Company choices around the level of hydrogen usage in domestic heating and how to guarantee it is produced in a low-carbon way have actually been postponed or put out to consultation for the time being.

Why does the UK require a hydrogen method?

Prior to the new method, the prime ministers 10-point plan in November 2020 consisted of plans to produce 5 gigawatts (GW) of annual low-carbon hydrogen production capability in the UK by 2030. Presently, this capability stands at practically absolutely no.

There were also over 100 recommendations to hydrogen throughout the federal governments energy white paper, reflecting its prospective use in many sectors. It also includes in the industrial and transportation decarbonisation techniques released earlier this year.

The level of hydrogen usage in 2050 envisaged by the strategy is rather greater than set out by the CCC in its latest advice, however covers a similar variety to other research studies.

Companies such as Equinor are continuing with hydrogen developments in the UK, but market figures have actually cautioned that the UK dangers being left behind. Other European nations have promised billions to support low-carbon hydrogen growth.

The technique does not increase this target, although it keeps in mind that the federal government is “knowledgeable about a prospective pipeline of over 15GW of tasks”.

Hydrogen demand (pink area) and proportion of last energy usage in 2050 (%). The main range is based upon illustrative net-zero consistent situations in the sixth carbon budget plan impact assessment and the full variety is based on the entire range from hydrogen technique analytical annex. Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

In some applications, hydrogen will compete with electrification and carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the very best methods of decarbonisation.

Its adaptability suggests it can be utilized to take on emissions in “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy market, however it presently struggles with high costs and low efficiency..

Critics likewise characterise hydrogen– the majority of which is currently made from gas– as a way for fossil fuel business to maintain the status quo. (For all the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen, see Carbon Briefs in-depth explainer.).

Nevertheless, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has actually noted that, in order to strike the UKs carbon budgets and achieve net-zero emissions, decisions in locations such as decarbonising heating and lorries need to be made in the 2020s to permit time for infrastructure and lorry stock changes.

However, as the chart below shows, if the governments plans concern fulfillment it could then expand considerably– comprising between 20-35% of the countrys total energy supply by 2050. This will need a major growth of infrastructure and abilities in the UK.

The file consists of an expedition of how the UK will expand production and create a market for hydrogen based on domestic supply chains. This contrasts with Germany, which has actually been looking to import hydrogen from abroad.

In its brand-new method, the UK federal government makes it clear that it sees low-carbon hydrogen as a crucial part of its net-zero plan, and states it wants the nation to be a “international leader on hydrogen” by 2030.

The strategy also called for a ₤ 240m net-zero hydrogen fund, the production of a hydrogen neighbourhood heated up with the gas by 2023, and increasing hydrogen blending into gas networks to 20% to minimize dependence on natural gas.

Today we have actually released the UKs very first Hydrogen Strategy! This is our plan to: kick-start an entire market release the marketplace to cut expenses ramp up domestic production unlock ₤ 4bn of personal capital support 9k jobs #BuildBackGreenerhttps:// aHZTr5yYeR– Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) August 17, 2021.

Hydrogen growth for the next decade is expected to begin gradually, with a government goal to “see 1GW production capacity by 2025” laid out in the technique.

A current All Party Parliamentary Group report on the function of hydrogen in powering market consisted of a list of needs, mentioning that the federal government should “expand beyond its existing commitments of 5GW production in the forthcoming hydrogen technique”. This call has actually been echoed by some industry groups.

As with most of the federal governments net-zero technique files so far, the hydrogen plan has actually been postponed by months, resulting in uncertainty around the future of this recently established market.

Hydrogen is widely viewed as an important component in strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and has actually been the subject of significant buzz, with numerous countries prioritising it in their post-Covid green recovery plans.

What variety of low-carbon hydrogen will be prioritised?

The chart below, from a document outlining hydrogen costs launched along with the main strategy, reveals the anticipated decreasing expense of electrolytic hydrogen over time (green lines). (This includes hydrogen made utilizing grid electrical energy, which is not technically green unless the grid is 100% renewable.).

The strategy states that the percentage of hydrogen supplied by specific innovations “depends on a series of presumptions, which can only be checked through the markets response to the policies set out in this strategy and real, at-scale implementation of hydrogen”..

The figure below from the assessment, based upon this analysis, reveals the impact of setting a threshold of 15-20gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) of hydrogen (red bar). In this example, those production approaches above the red line, including some for producing blue hydrogen, would be excluded.

The government has actually launched an assessment on low-carbon hydrogen requirements to accompany the method, with a promise to “settle design components” of such requirements by early 2022.

There was significant pushback on this conclusion, with other researchers– consisting of CCC head of carbon budget plans, David Joffe– pointing out that it relied on extremely high methane leak and a short-term procedure of international warming capacity that emphasised the impact of methane emissions over CO2.

Many researchers and environmental groups are sceptical about blue hydrogen given its associated emissions.

The CCC has previously stated that the federal government should “set out [a] vision for contributions of hydrogen production from various routes to 2035” in its hydrogen method.

Supporting a range of jobs will provide the UK a “competitive benefit”, according to the government. Germany, by contrast, has said it will focus solely on green hydrogen.

In May, S&P Global Platts reported that Rita Wadey– hydrogen economy deputy director at the Department for Business, Energy & & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)– stated that, rather than “blue” or “green”, the UK would “consider carbon strength as the main consider market development”.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be expressed in terms of co2 equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, an amount called … Read More.

CO2 equivalent: Greenhouse gases can be revealed in regards to carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2eq. For a provided quantity, different greenhouse gases trap various quantities of heat in the atmosphere, a quantity called the global warming capacity. Carbon dioxide equivalent is a way of comparing emissions from all greenhouse gases, not simply co2.

Prof Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, tells Carbon Brief that, in his view, it is “most likely a bit unhelpful to get too preoccupied with the green vs blue hydrogen debate”. He says:.

Green hydrogen is used electrolysers powered by renewable electrical energy, while blue hydrogen is made using natural gas, with the resulting emissions caught and stored..

For its part, the CCC has suggested a “blue hydrogen bridge” as an useful tool for accomplishing net-zero. It states permitting some blue hydrogen will decrease emissions faster in the short-term by replacing more nonrenewable fuel sources with hydrogen when there is insufficient green hydrogen offered..

The brand-new technique largely avoids using this colour-coding system, however it states the federal government has actually devoted to a “twin track” approach that will consist of the production of both varieties.

The CCC has warned that policies need to establish both green and blue alternatives, “rather than simply whichever is least-cost”.

” If we wish to demonstrate, trial, start to commercialise and after that present making use of hydrogen in industry/air travel/freight or anywhere, then we require enough hydrogen. We cant wait up until the supply side deliberations are complete.”.

The CCC has formerly specified “ideal emissions reductions” for blue hydrogen compared to fossil gas as “at least 95% CO2 capture, 85% lifecycle greenhouse gas savings”.

The previous is basically zero-carbon, however the latter can still result in emissions due to methane leaks from gas facilities and the reality that carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not catch 100% of emissions..

Contrast of price estimates across various innovation types at main fuel prices commissioning from 2020 to 2050, ₤/ MWh hydrogen. Source: Hydrogen Production Costs.

It has also launched an accompanying report, prepared by consultancies E4Tech and Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST), which takes a look at optimum appropriate levels of emissions for low-carbon hydrogen production and the methodology for calculating these emissions.

At the heart of many conversations about low-carbon hydrogen production is whether the hydrogen is “green” or “blue”.

Short (hopefully) reflecting on this blue hydrogen thing. And then cherry-picked a climate metric to make it look as bad as possible.

The plan keeps in mind that, in many cases, hydrogen made utilizing electrolysers “might end up being cost-competitive with CCUS [carbon storage, capture and utilisation] -allowed methane reformation as early as 2025”..

As it stands, blue hydrogen used steam methane reformation (SMR) is the cheapest low-carbon hydrogen available, according to government analysis included in the strategy. (For more on the relative costs of various hydrogen varieties, see this Carbon Brief explainer.).

In the example picked for the consultation, natural gas paths where CO2 capture rates are below around 85% were omitted..

Jess Ralston, an expert at thinktank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said in a declaration that the government should “live to the threat of gas industry lobbying causing it to dedicate too greatly to blue hydrogen and so keeping the nation locked into fossil fuel-based technology”.

This opposition capped when a current research study led to headlines specifying that blue hydrogen is “even worse for the environment than coal”.


The file does refrain from doing that and rather says it will supply “further information on our production strategy and twin track technique by early 2022”.

How will hydrogen be used in various sectors of the economy?

Low-carbon hydrogen can be utilized to do whatever from sustaining automobiles to heating homes, the reality is that it will likely be restricted by the volume that can probably be produced.

Federal government analysis, included in the strategy, recommends potential hydrogen need of approximately 38 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, not consisting of mixing it into the gas grid, and increasing to 55-165TWh by 2035.

Call for evidence on “hydrogen-ready” industrial devices by the end of 2021. Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in industry “within a year”. Phase 2 of the ₤ 315m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund.A ₤ 55 million Industrial Fuel Switching 2 competition in 2021.

Commitments made in the brand-new technique consist of:.

Michael Liebrich of Liebreich Associates has actually arranged the usage of low-carbon hydrogen into a “ladder”, with existing applications– such as the chemicals industry– given leading priority.

One noteworthy exclusion is hydrogen for fuel-cell automobile. This follows the governments concentrate on electrical vehicles, which lots of researchers deem more economical and efficient technology.

Reacting to the report, energy scientists pointed to the “little” volumes of hydrogen expected to be produced in the near future and advised the government to pick its top priorities thoroughly.

The CCC does not see comprehensive use of hydrogen outside of these restricted cases by 2035, as the chart below programs.

The new strategy is clear that industry will be a “lead alternative” for early hydrogen use, beginning in the mid-2020s. It likewise says that it will “most likely” be very important for decarbonising transportation– particularly heavy products automobiles, shipping and aviation– and balancing a more renewables-heavy grid.

It includes plans for hydrogen heating trials and consultation on “hydrogen-ready” boilers by 2026.

Protection of the report and federal government advertising materials emphasised that the governments plan would offer adequate hydrogen to change gas in around 3m homes each year.

My lovelies, I just dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! For anybody new to all this, the ladder is my effort to put usage cases for clean hydrogen into some sort of benefit order, due to the fact that not all usage cases are equally likely to succeed. 1/10— Michael Liebreich (@MLiebreich) August 15, 2021.

The starting point for the range– 0TWh– suggests there is substantial unpredictability compared to other sectors, and even the greatest price quote is only around a 10th of the energy presently utilized to heat UK homes.

This remains in line with the CCCs recommendation for its net-zero pathway, which sees low-carbon hydrogen scaling approximately 90TWh by 2035– around a 3rd of the size of the present power sector.

The federal government is more optimistic about making use of hydrogen in domestic heating. Its analysis recommends that as much as 45TWh of low-carbon hydrogen could be put to this use by 2035, as the chart below suggests.

The committee emphasises that hydrogen use should be limited to “locations less fit to electrification, particularly delivering and parts of market” and supplying versatility to the power system.

Illustrative hydrogen demand in 2030 (blue) and 2035 (purple). Source: UK hydrogen strategy.

Juliet Phillips, senior policy consultant and UK hydrogen specialist at thinktank E3G tells Carbon Brief the method had “left open” the door for uses that “do not include the most value for the environment or economy”. She includes:.

” As the technique confesses, there will not be considerable quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for some time.

” Stronger signals of intent could steer public and personal financial investments into those areas which add most value. The government has not clearly set out how to choose which sectors will take advantage of the preliminary organized 5GW of production and has rather mostly left this to be identified through pilots and trials.”.

In the actual report, the federal government said that it anticipated “overall the demand for low carbon hydrogen for heating by 2030 to be reasonably low (<< 1TWh)".. Some applications, such as commercial heating, may be virtually impossible without a supply of hydrogen, and numerous experts have actually argued that these hold true where it should be prioritised, at least in the short term. The strategy also includes the alternative of utilizing hydrogen in sectors that might be better served by electrification, particularly domestic heating, where hydrogen has to contend with electrical heat pumps.. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. 1 TWh is 0.2%. Much will hinge on the progress of expediency studies in the coming years, and the federal governments approaching heat and structures method may also supply some clarity. In order to produce a market for hydrogen, the federal government states it will analyze blending up to 20% hydrogen into the gas network by late 2022 and aim to make a final choice in late 2023. " I would suggest to opt for these no-regret options for hydrogen demand [in industry] that are already available ... those must be the focus.". Gniewomir Flis, a job supervisor at Agora Energiewende, tells Carbon Brief that-- in his view-- blending "has no future". He describes:. How does the government plan to support the hydrogen market? Sharelines from this story. However, Anne-Marie Trevelyan-- minister for energy, tidy development and climate modification at BEIS-- informed the Times that the expense to offer long-term security to the industry would be "really small" for private families. As it stands, low-carbon hydrogen stays expensive compared to fossil fuel options, there is uncertainty about the level of future need and high dangers for business aiming to enter the sector. Now that its technique has actually been published, the government states it will gather evidence from consultations on its low-carbon hydrogen standard, net-zero hydrogen fund and the organization design:. These agreements are developed to conquer the cost gap in between the favored technology and fossil fuels. Hydrogen producers would be offered a payment that bridges this space. The 10-point plan included a promise to establish a hydrogen organization model to encourage private financial investment and an earnings system to supply funding for business design. The brand-new hydrogen method validates that this organization model will be finalised in 2022, enabling the very first agreements to be designated from the start of 2023. This is pending another assessment, which has actually been introduced alongside the main technique. According to the federal governments press release, its favored design is "built on a comparable property to the overseas wind agreements for difference (CfDs)", which substantially cut expenses of new overseas wind farms. " This will provide us a better understanding of the mix of production innovations, how we will satisfy a ramp-up in demand, and the function that new technologies could play in attaining the levels of production necessary to satisfy our future [6th carbon budget plan] and net-zero dedications.". Hydrogen need (pink location) and percentage of last energy usage in 2050 (%). My lovelies, I simply dropped Version 4 of the Clean Hydrogen Ladder! Call for evidence on phaseout of carbon-intensive hydrogen production in market "within a year"." As the strategy admits, there will not be considerable amounts of low-carbon hydrogen for some time. 4) On page 62 the hydrogen technique mentions that the government expects << 1 TWh of energy for heating to come from hydrogen by 2030. Much of the resulting press protection of the hydrogen method, from the Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph, concentrated on the strategy for a hydrogen market "subsidised by taxpayers", as the cash would come from either greater expenses or public funds.